New series Comedians of the World got Netflix subscribers to usher in the year with laughs aplenty when the programme premiered on Tuesday. The first of its kind globally, the show brings together 47 stand-up comics from 13 regions, representing eight languages.
Phumlani S Langa chats to Tumi Morake, Loyiso Gola, Riaad Moosa and Loyiso Madinga, all of whom featured in the global streaming event
1. TUMI MORAKE: A FIRST-TIME VISIT
Tumi is rocking big hair and greets me with a captivating smile as we begin our conversation. She talks me through the responses she received when the show was being filmed.
“It was awesome. I met a woman after the show, a local who came up to me and said she’d love to see more of me and that she enjoyed it. That was really special,” she says.
Preparing for the recording took some time, from ensuring that the content was tight to hitting the gym and getting performance fit.
“In the build-up, we got to play on a couple of different stages and I loved being put on a line-up with comedians from the US and Canada. I was the only foreigner there.”
Tumi used these performances as test sessions leading up to the big show. They must have helped her cook up her set, which has more than a few quality moments in it. Her performance was filmed in Montreal, Canada. It was her first trip to the country.
Tumi starts off her set by thanking the Canadians for their $1 donations towards African aid. At one point, she makes reference to the classic kids’ TV show Teletubbies, but the audience doesn’t seem to catch on.
I ask her how she went about crafting a set for a Canadian audience.
“I had to test the material and learn about the place. I tried to get on as many stages as I could, and if I couldn’t, then I would go and watch others perform.”
At times during her set, she has to go over her South Africanisms by rephrasing some of her pieces, which can throw the rhythm off, but what I enjoy most about her work is the amazing things she is able to do with the subtext of her jokes. They’re full of messages about colonialism and a resurgence of black pride.
She also has a darker side to her work that I would like to see more of.
Tumi is hot property right now. Her show, #WTF Tumi, which screens on SABC3, is widely enjoyed, and now there’s this to watch and love.
2. LOYISO MADINGA: A SHORT MANDINGO WITH A MENACING SET
The Africa correspondent of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is a clever writer who is shrewd about his work.
“I have been very focused on the work, making sure it’s good. I didn’t chase Netflix or The Daily Show. It was a case of editing myself and being brutal with the material night after night; of asking myself whether something was worth saying.”
When asked about concerns regarding his jokes being relatable to a foreign audience, he says: “We have different audiences here in South Africa in terms of language and culture. You go to Cape Town and do jokes about Indian people, but because there isn’t a large Indian community there, those jokes don’t work. Then you could be in Lenasia and do jokes about Indian people from Durban; those won’t work either. As a comedian from here, you have to know how to adjust.”
He almost said no when he got the call to do the show, thinking he wasn’t ready. Fortunately, he ended up taking on the challenge.
In his set, Loyiso kicks off with a scheme about his disdain for House music, which is side-splitting. He says he is thankful the announcer got his name right – Madinga, not mandingo – and apologises to the crowd for not being a mandingo-sized black person as his ancestors were not chosen to go on the boat.
Loyiso has a sharp tongue, but you’d never know it just from looking at him or even conversing with him. He is not scared to touch on prickly issues in the world, such as disease. He quips in his set that it is better to laugh at those jokes instead of tensing up because then the disease wins. He also speaks a bit about Jehovah’s witnesses, and the jokes land perfectly. This dude even whips out a Hitler impression. I loved it.
3. RIAAD MOOSA: SURGICAL SLANDER WITH A SMILE
The doctor-turned-comedian is chipper upon my arrival. With a broad smile, he says: “I can’t wait for the specials to drop. I’m looking forward to it. The one thing I’m always anxious about is whether the product will be good.”
Surprisingly, the doctor of punch lines is not too concerned about how people take his jokes – you would expect this to play on the mind of a comic. Not this seasoned pro.
“All I have control over is giving you a really strong product. That’s all I can do.”
He says he paid close attention to his artistic vision as Netflix is very artist-centred.
“They would hardly tell me they couldn’t do something I wanted, from a technical standpoint. If I had notes, they really listened. It must be tough as they also have deadlines to meet, but they really try to make sure that you are happy, which very few of the other organisations do.”
He chuckles and says: “Artists are very insecure; creatives in general are. I think Netflix recognises that.”
This gave Riaad the space he needed to execute his set, which makes up the first episode of Comedians of the World.
Performing their sets in Canada and the US gave all the comedians more than enough ammunition to thrill the crowd. Naturally, US President Donald Trump makes up a large percentage of this comedic cannon fodder.
Riaad spends a good part of his act just throwing their US culture back at them, to their delight.
His use of various accents is enjoyable, and for someone who studied medicine, his movements on stage and his commitment to the mini roles he takes on are classy. Someone should get this guy to play in another movie.
I admit to enjoying a healthy side of profanity with my comedy. Riaad pulls a middle finger or two, but his material contains little more than that – he even jokes about his wholesome humour. While he dons a snazzy suit on stage, Riaad is actually a totally laid-back guy.
4. LOYISO GOLA: PLENTY OF SILVER-TONGUED SATIRE
He is no stranger to foreign shores, having performed in Montreal a few times. The brother even has an Emmy to his name – for his iconic satirical show, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola, which aired on e.tv. A lanky cynic, he comes across as the most chilled comedian on the day I pop by to discuss his set.
I ask all four comedians on the day about that Netflix money – is the money as large as its productions make it seem? Gola laughs as he deflects: “Ah man, you know ...”
He says he had a great time doing the show and wasn’t too worried about his material going over Canadians’ heads. “I try not to pigeonhole myself – you know, being funny here, but not there. I just try to make sure I’m funny.”
Regarding South Africans’ low self-esteem, he says: “We suffer from that because of our history. But we really are good enough for the world. I hope that this idea of Netflix having South African content is a really good move.”
Loyiso says timing is the key ingredient in his work: “You can have all the elements of a good joke, but if the timing’s off, the joke falls flat. Timing is everything.”
This, of course, cannot be taught and the irony is that getting it right comes with time.
Loyiso’s comedic style is to start slowly and build his delivery up. But with this set, he turns things up from the get-go, offering quick lines that are all worth a laugh in just a few short minutes. Also part of the delivery is his accent – it’s much like that of infamous South African politicians and it fits perfectly with his satirical content.
This guy takes aim at everybody; it is some of his best work since Late Nite News. Everyone gets the smoke: foodies, first world citizens, his family and friends. He seems to have a joke for everything. His comments on European exploration for spice are priceless.
Besides humour, Loyiso’s set also contains quirky titbits of information – for instance, India has the best space programme in the world, which operates on a fraction of the money of its US counterpart.